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Warning: Your NaNoWriMo Project Might Not Turn Out Great

Podcast Episode Link: Click here.

Podcast Episode Transcript: Hi, genuine writers! This is Innovative Editing’s Jeannette DiLouie welcoming you to episode #40 of The Genuine Writer Podcast. We keep things short, sweet and to the point here so that you can learn what you need to learn and get back to writing already.

Today’s episode – which discusses the dark (or at least obnoxious) side of National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo – is sponsored by Maiden America. That’s because, while I might be thinking of its sequel, I’m pretty sure it was a National Novel Writing Month project to begin with.

Better yet, it’s one that worked out! I’m about to give you some discouraging, or at least annoying, information about this international book-writing time of year. But let’s start out on a positive note first by showing how well it can be done.

Maiden America is a really fun romp, filled with so much history the way it’s supposed to be told: in riveting, personal detail. Main character Abigail Carpenter might be fictitious, but the British occupation she lives through, the espionage she participates in, and the constant danger she faces as battles draw near were very, very real.

If you’re ready to see how absolutely fascinating the Battles of Trenton and Princeton – not to mention the drama that put them into play – really were, then pick up your print or e-copy of Maiden America today. The link is right in the description section.

So that’s a definite success story. But not every NaNo story works out that way.

First off, I suppose I should probably tell you guys what NaNoWriMo is. The month of November is set aside in many writing circles to start and “finish” the first draft of a new novel manuscript. If you’re reading the transcript, you’re going to see “finish” in quotation marks because it’s a silly little marketing gimmick in reality. You don’t finish anything. You simply write 50,000 words, which is at least 10,000 words short of a real novel manuscript, if not 50,000 words short depending on the genre.

But whatever. The official rules are that you can begin writing at midnight on November 1 and you can’t count anything after 11:59:59 on November 30. If you manage to write 50,000 words in that timeframe, then you win. If not, you lose. Though winning and losing share pretty much the same consequences, since there’s no actual prize involved other than bragging rights and the ability to purchase a t-shirt.

Big whoop.

I’m not trying to trash-talk National Novel Writing Month, for the record. It can be a ton of fun, help you to make writing friends and make progress in ways you never would have made before. Again, Maiden America, a published book, is proof of that. It’s just that it can also lead to a lot of time-wasting mistakes as well. That’s what I found out with last year’s NaNoWriMo project, “When Dignity Was a Crime.”

“When Dignity Was a Crime” is a book I’ve been meaning to write for about 15 years now. It’s the first book in a series about American teenagers who travel into the Bermuda Triangle, only to find themselves teleported back in time to periods that their ancestors would have suffered under. Installment 1 is about Ariana Calvert, a very affluent 16-year-old Bostonian with a black father and white mother. She ends up traveling back to Baltimore in the 1830s, where she’s sold on a slave block to a local pastor and his family.

Again, this is a story I’ve known I wanted to write for a very long time. Plus, it’s even one I did some significant amount of research for before November 1, 2018 came around. Moreover, I got my 50,000 words in just as intended, typing away day after day after day. So “winning” wasn’t the problem. The problem was what my winning wrought.

I’ve only worked on my story sporadically in the year that’s passed because what I wrote down had a lot of problems with it. For one thing, I didn’t do enough research when I first started out, and I knew it. So there were details that I just didn’t know and therefore information I couldn’t figure out how to fill in. I wasn’t even really sure about the exact time frame I wanted to work with, since there were things that I really wanted to include that happened a decent decade before what I’d originally chosen and other things that happened a decent decade after.

Honestly, when I finished my 50,000 words, I felt less than good about it all. I had gone into it when I did just for NaNo’s sake, and I was sure that I was going to have to rewrite a lot of it – if not all of it – when I put my story-writing craft away ‘til the new year. Between that and how busy life got, I just wasn’t motivated to work on it for a while after that. As in months. And months.

Now, I do have to say, once I sat down and finally did open When Dignity Was a Crime back up, I was pleasantly surprised. As it turned out, the first 30,000 words were a lot better off than I thought they would be. So it wasn’t until I got to looking over where Ariana ends up being back in time that I really started to lose confidence again, questioning my decisions, rewriting and then re-rewriting parts, spending copious amounts of time re-researching, and fixating on stuff that, frankly, I didn’t need to fixate on. Especially not for a first draft.

I had moments of breakthroughs and moments of setting it aside all over again. Really, it was an obnoxious cycle of doubting myself and then forcing myself to work on it once again, with a real breakthrough only finally happening – ironically enough – on November 1, 2019.

Looking back, I don’t think any of that had to have happened if I had never decided to participate in NaNo in the first place. If I had given myself the proper amount of time to prep, I could have had a full first draft done, not to mention edited a few times over by now. It’s rather annoying to think about, in all honesty, especially since this is a project I am ultimately absolutely certain I’m going to finish up, polish and publish.

Now, clearly, the issues I was having are very historical-fiction specific. But there are plenty of other problems other-genre writers can have while rushing to “win” NaNo. The stress alone can drive you nuts, making you overthink and underthink and tear your hair out until it might not be a bad idea for you to spend a day or two in a psych ward detoxing from the ridiculousness of self-imposed deadlines. And, really, your first-draft 50,000 words might end up being complete and total ridiculousness in the end. Again, when you’re under this kind of pressure, you’re not necessarily in the best frame of mind. This can lead to writing lots and lots of lame stuff that you’re going to end up deleting altogether: a total waste of time.

I can’t tell you how many writers say they scrap their entire manuscripts after NaNo, never to touch it again because it’s so horrible. Or because you just don’t have the energy to care about it anymore after November is done.

In short, if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo this year, then don’t feel guilty about it. Just work at a non-manic pace to get more words down on paper. You’re not a bad writer to not participate in it. You might actually be a smart writer.

And if you are participating, then the absolute best of luck to you. Seriously. You really can do a great job, regardless of whether you make it to the 50,000 mark in the allotted time period or not. Just make sure not to make winning your only goal. It can be a goal, but don’t put it above writing something meaningful that you can actually use and build off of: something that prompts you to keep writing after November ends.

You’ll be a much happier writer if you do NaNoWriMo the smart way, even if that means not doing NaNoWriMo at all.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for tuning into The Genuine Writer Podcast, and I do seriously hope this was an encouragement in the end, not a discouragement. A very happy NaNo or non-NaNo-ing to all of you, and let’s see some serious progress made on our manuscripts regardless!

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